Post-Sandy Restaurant Recovery Stories: JoeDoe in the East Village Online + Open

JoeDoe owners and operators Chef Joe Dobias and Jill Schulster pose with their famous housemade Fried Matzo outside their restaurant.

Restaurant Name: JoeDoe
Location: East Village
Years in business: Four
Status: Fully open.
Damage: None.
Losses: Minimal amounts of food; six days of service.
Owner: Joe Dobias

Prior to Sandy, had you ever had to deal with a disaster situation at this or any restaurant?

I’ve been here for quite a few of them recently. I was here for the blackout in ’03. The restaurant I was working at on the Upper East Side lost everything there. That wound up going out of business, not directly as a result of that, but it was the final nail in the coffin.

Then, in 2006, I was working in Queens when much of it was blacked out for days. We actually wound up barbecuing in the street in front of that restaurant, serving $10 plates of food a night. So, I’ve been through things like this previously, and the idea that anyone in an official capacity was surprised by the intensity of this storm is ridiculous.

When did you shut the doors to prepare for the storm?

We closed down early in anticipation of it, losing all of Sunday night. Then, at 8PM on Monday night, we lost power. I hear people talking about losing tens of thousands in inventory, but we were fortunate. We were at the end of the week, and we close on Mondays anyway. Also, we’re extremely careful when it comes to ordering, so we were down to a very minimal amount of food.

What have your post-Sandy reopening efforts entailed?

We opened the doors on Thursday evening with candles and some friends at the bar. We only stayed open until 8:30PM and then, as soon as we shut the doors, we all left together. The city should not be unlit, and it was.

You could sense the angst as you walked the streets. Everybody looked un-showered, unclean, and really, really tired. And that’s when I started getting nervous.

When power was finally restored, we opened around noon on Saturday for brunch. And we’re the only people who were able to open in the area. Because we’re a very small restaurant, we work with small purveyors, so we were able to get enough product through a variety of channels, either UPS, people driving it in to us, and so on, to open. There was not a single other restaurant in the East Village that was serving a full menu on Saturday and Sunday.

Thankfully, we had a great weekend, and people came out and showed their support. We really felt like we were part of the neighborhood fabric, and I hope we showed that we are really dedicated to it. This was my focus the whole time – the people who rely on me, customers — as well as the people who work for me. I think about the younger people who work here, some of whom are living paycheck to paycheck.  That’s a tougher spot to be in than throwing out spoiled food.

What have been some of the biggest challenges of this ordeal?

There are a lot of mixed emotions for me right now. I feel optimistic and blessed that we didn’t get pummeled. I don’t know if I would be able to do anything but throw in the towel – or the keys — if we had. I am also very apprehensive because there is a constant renewal of the same game plan that doesn’t work at the official or infrastructure levels in this city.

I spent an entire week railing at Mayor Bloomberg. If he weren’t in his last lame-duck term, he wouldn’t respond to people the way he does. That the East Village had no water damage yet no power is a serious failure. There are so many people who have so much more damage, but the no power thing is a serious failure. I walked around and saw millions of dollars not being spent, hundreds of people not being able to work.

Also, there was little actual law and order – streetlights were not working yet taxis were still riding around. The only time I ever saw a police shield on foot was when gasoline was being given out. It really just seemed like nobody on an official level was motivated to restore power and order.

How is your staff doing?

I have a great bunch of people, and I think that’s the brilliance of having a small group. I love every person that works for us. They were so on top of everything. It took some of them two hours to get to work, but on Saturday, we all arrived between 6AM and 8AM, we had a delivery by 8:30AM, and we were open by noon. It was impressive to see! Everyone was so motivated to get back to doing normal things.

Anything you’d like diners to know?

We’re trying to be back to business as usual because that’s what we can offer our neighbors and our employees. We want people to return to JoeDoe and see that Joe and Jill (partner/co-owner Jill Schulster) are still here.

Follow Chef Joe Dobias on Twitter at JOEDOEchef and Jill Schulster at MissesDoe.

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